Book: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Age Range: 8-12
My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter is a middle grade novel about a girl who has been rescued from a cult. Zylynn is a few days shy of her thirteenth birthday when she is removed from the compound of the Children Inside the Light by a man who tells her that he's her dad, though she can call him Louis. Zylynn, who spent her entire life inside the compound, is baffled by everything around her. She doesn't even know what a "dad" is.
As her story unfolds, the reader learns from Zylynn's first person thoughts just how poorly she's been treated, though she doesn't even fully realize it herself. Even as Louis and his sympathetic wife Charita try to help Zylynn, they have no idea how deeply damaged she is inside, and how hard she is fighting to get back Inside the Light, where she has been programmed to believe that she belongs. A deadline involving a ceremony that must be performed inside the compound by her thirteen birthday, if she is ever to return "home" adds tension to the story.
I read this book in pretty much a single sitting. I couldn't put it down because Zylynn felt so real to me. I kept thinking things like: "This poor child. How could they do that to children?" Here she is smiling for the first time in her birth father's home:
"I feel a strange pinch in my cheeks, an ache in my jaw. I move my fingers to my lips and that when I realize it: I'm smiling too." (Chapter 10)
And here she is laughing for the first time:
"She pokes me again right above the belly button. And the strangest thing happens. It starts at that point. A little bubble, a movement of my muscles. Not indigestion or cramps. Not painful. It bounces from my belly through my windpipe and it's already out my mouth before I know what it is.
I laugh." (Chapter 16, ~70% of the way through the book)
She is stunned by simple things, like being given the choice of what t-shirt she wants to buy at Target. It's heartbreaking.
I do think that My Life with the Liars is middle grade reader appropriate. Having read a number of young adult and adult novels about cults, there were things I was waiting, dreading to see revealed that were, happily, not. Kids will likely be baffled by the things that the leaders of the Children of the Light did to children, but I don't think it will give them nightmares. And for certain My Life with the Liars has the potential to make kids appreciate the things that they do have, from parents who hug them to the ability to choose what kind of sandwich they want for lunch. But the reason to read it is that Zylynn is an unusual, compelling character, and her experience feels real and immediate. Highly recommended for kids and adults.
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